Archive for April, 2003

Buried Stumps and Other Bare Roots

Spring contintues to wind its wet track across San Francisoco, and I continue planting, planting, planting.
This weekend I had a seemingly simple project — plant a half dozen Summer Phlox. I ordered these fellows (3 white “David” and 3 red “Starfire” varieties) from Dutch Gardens a few months ago, and more or less forgotten about them.
They arrived this week — on Monday of course. As ‘dormant’ bare root plants, I hoped they’d survive until I could get them in the ground on Saturday. So, I put them in a dark cool corner of the garage and crossed my green thumbs.
Saturday came, and I began to dig up the spot (a circular patch with some ragged ancient prim roses and one of my myriad foxgloves). With all the plants swept away, I ran into an old tree stump about 3 inches below the surface. I had forgotten about this thing. Last year (when planting the prim roses) I ran into it, hacked at it feebly a few times, then gave up.
But, now I couldn’t tolerate this unwanted barrier to a perfect new perennial bed. I started digging. And hacking. And sawing. Hours later I had gotten the beast out. It was about a foot in diameter and went slightly less deep than that. In all, a small tree remnant, but a major battle for me. Victorious, I filled in the hole with dark new composted soil and a tad of chicken manure.
Of course I was then out of time. I needed to help with my kids, run some errands, and rub my aching back.
Finally on Sunday I got back to planting the phlox. Unpacked, I was amazed by the delicate little creatures that were the crowns and a few fat roots. I’d never planted bare root perennials before, well what the hell. Guessing at orientation (mass of roots down?) I buried them an inch or so below the surface. Took about 5 minutes!
So, we’ll see if they come up — let alone if my front yard is sunny enough for Phlox Paniculata. It rained last night, so all is well in the garden. All I need now is lots of advil and a few more days to recover from the digging.

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Dahlia Mania

Today was the annual sale of the San Francisco Dahlia Society. Each winter they dig up all the tubers in the massive Dahlia garden near the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate park. Excess (and there’s a lot of excess!) are sold off in a fund-raiser, held in a neighborhood rec center.
The event started at 9, so I thought I’d show up at 9-ish and beat the rush.
Wrong. At 9 am there was a line snaking and snaking — hundreds of yards of folks drooling to get in. I dutifully took my place, and compared wish lists with my neighbors. I was hoping to get “Porcelain” — a white water-lily type Dahlia.
The line sucked into the rec center quickly enough. But, swarms of gardeners clogged the spaces between the tables. By the time I found the box labeled “Porcelain” all the tubers were gone.
I emerged with two tubers of “Bishop of Llada,” a deep red Peony-type. I also scooped up a few baby plants of water lily-types — a white “Cameo” and two pale yellow “Angel’s Dust.” Five prime Dahlias. I had only one small bruise from a short dark-haired woman who elbowed me aside to beat me to the “mini cactus” table. This is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day sale I’ve always avoided.
But then came the final suffering — not enough room in the garden. I squeezed a few in here and there, but am just running out of room. Briggs, do you like Dahlias?

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Spring Failure

I’m not sure what happened to me this year, but I forgot about spring. Everyone else’s garden is popping out with spring color, but mine is in the “putting on growth” phase. In other words — tons of green, not much color.
Yes, there are few highlights. A healthy clump of white cala lilies relieves the tedium, and the roses are all throwing out buds like there’s no tomorrow. When they start to bloom I’ll be off the hook.
And — here come the masses of purple-flowered foxgloves. In two weeks they’ll be everywhere.

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Clematis & Coral Bells

These just popped open a few days ago….
Clematis niobe
clematis “Niobe” ….
whiteclematis.jpg
and a generic white variety. Then there is the only evergreen clematis, Clematis armandii:
Clematis armandii
The coral bells, genus Heuchera, are the star of the mid-Spring garden, appearing like clock-work and casting a spell over the Lemon Tree Border….
heuchera.jpg
Some useful factoids on these two garden favorites:
Clematis are difficult to get started. Snails eat the emerging stems so put a strawberry basket over them or even a glass jar until they get going. They want a dark, damp place to grow from but a sun-filled space to grow up into. Put a brick or cement paver over their root base. They look silly by themselves and are unhappy pinned to a wall or trellis. They are very happy twining through anything thickety or viney–rose bushes, tree canopy, other clematises. They are wonderful “weaving” material to create layers of color in a border or along a fence.
Heuchera are very useful border plants. They are perennials that keep their leaves all year and gradually spread out in their site. You can use them as groundcover in a border with bulbs, iris, roses, salvias–any plants that bloom later when the coral bells stems have disappeared. Their variety of form and color is handy. 3-foot high Heuchera maxima is a native from the Channel Islands of southern California well-adapted to gardening. It has pale green-white bells and bright green foliage. The tiny alpine native coral bell, Heuchera micrantha, is just right for the front edge of the border–at about 6 inches high. The familiar deep pink hybrid coral bell is somewhere in the middle. And I have a gorgeous pale pink hybrid “LaRochelle” that is as tall as the Maxima (the one seen in the photo).
And the first flush of spring Wisteria…
March 26th

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Staging the Garden

The house next door is for sale. The substantial post and sign, planted a day ago proclaims to all that new territory is up for grabs to the highest bidder.
Preparation for this event has taken over a year: the emptying of people, furniture, and garage junk. The sanding of the floors. The cosmetic repair of paint and the removal of window bars. The neighbors have now relinquished their former estate to the Agent. And last night the Stagers arrived.
I knew this because the lights blazed out from the curtainless windows at about 9pm and I could see two figures conducting a slow dance with a tablecloth. Potted palms suddenly appeared in the empty corners of the living room. Artistic lamps, large cushions, elaborately framed flower prints, and bronze candlesticks transformed what had been a modest house crammed with extended family, TV sets, and Barcaloungers behind a full set of window bars.
The Staging of the House has become an essential part of the house selling ritual in these parts, where the purchase of a thousand square feet of floor space requires the coughing up of half a million dollars. And this particular house was going to need all the staging it could get to distract potential owners from it’s more peculiar aspects. Like the all-cement backyard.
I wondered how they were going to stage that. I know the space well since it is what I see from my bedroom window. From driveway to fence the yard is solid cement. The complicated infrastructure of a wooden stairway leading down from the kitchen is a major visual element. Then there is the metal shed, a quaint perfectly-scaled play house complete with window and window box (a Marie Antoinette theme could be lurking here), and in the very center a 6-foot by 6-foot brick-and-cement platform underneath a vine-covered trellis. The effect is something like those freeway rest stop picnic areas. It was hard to imagine what the Stagers would do with this, though some expensive garden furniture could provide momentary distraction from the reality.
Leaving for work this morning I noticed there were flyers in the plastic box for that purpose attached to the For Sale sign. I plucked one out and read down the list of fabulous attributes of my neighbor’s house. At the bottom of the list was what I was looking for. And it wasn’t “Utility yard great for car repair,” or “Wonderful yard for children with knee pads”
“Patio nestled beneath grapevine” it said on the flyer.

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